This week, this popular meme turns ten! (I’ve actually only been doing it for a few months but it’s the thought that counts?) Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly challenge hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, where each week you write a list of ten particular books.
In light of an anniversary, I thought I would look back at some of the books I know well – because I always recommend them to others! Here are my go-to recs when I’m asked (and often when I’m not, too, ha.)
You may already be familiar with some of the books due to my overeagerness in talking about them on this blog, while others I’m sure I haven’t mentioned at all.
This list contains: contemporary lit and classics, and sci-fi and fantasy.
Anil’s Ghost – Michael Ondaatje
Synopsis: Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of a bloody civil war. Enter Anil Tissera, a young woman and forensic anthropologist born in Sri Lanka but educted in the West, sent by an international human rights group to identify the victims of the murder campaigns sweeping the island.
Why do I recommend it? This story is one that will stay with you, and encourage you to delve into, questioning the choices made by Ondaatje and his characters both. It is an astonishing glimpse into Sri Lanka’s history and absolutely packed full of symbolism, yet at its heart its a story about humanity that is very easily read.
I have only read this book a couple of times, very close together, but it’s a story that remains with me. Ondaatje is, of course, the writer of The English Patient, which won the Booker Prize, and the haunting, poetic prose of that book is here, too. This book, which is fiction but based on a very true period of history, provided an excellent beginning for me to actively learn more about Sri Lanka’s history and as a country now, and through that really indicated to me a) how important fiction is for education and b) how much there is for me to learn from it.
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Synopsis: Great Expectations traces the growth of the book’s narrator, Philip Pirrip – Pip – from a boy of shallow dreams to a man with depth of character.
Why do I recommend it? I have always enjoyed reading classics. It’s both a window into history and an appreciation of literature. However, they can be [confusing] sometimes, with obfuscating language. I find that’s not at all the case in Great Expectations. In fact, following the story of Pip, who is an eminently relatable character in many ways, is an excellent intro to this genre.
Somehow, when it comes to a Dickens novel to recommend, I always turn to this one. It’s long but it’s not that long, and I find it a pretty easy read for someone apprehensive about classics. There’s also no shortage of adaptations to indulge in after either!
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Synopsis: It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love.
Why do I recommend it? There is not setup or slow beginning in this book – as a reader, you are forced to confront what the horrors of slavery have done to Sethe and her family. And ‘horror’ is the right word – this book is haunted by the character of Beloved, and so are you. And yet despite all of that, this is still a book about love.
People often choose to pass by Beloved because of the density of Morrison’s prose or the abundance of complex imagery throughout, but it’s a classic for a reason, and all of Morrison’s language is deliberate. It will expose completely – often in a way that you shy away from as a reader – an inescapably heinous part of American history.
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Synopsis: Seven years ago, Anne Elliot broke off her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth, convinced that marrying a man without money or status would be a grave mistake. Now, she is past her prime and single at twenty-seven. But when the estranged paramours reconnect through a couple renting the Elliot family estate, Anne discovers she may have another shot at romance—this time, on her terms.
Why do I recommend it? Whether or not this is the best Austen novel is irrelevant. This book, within only 250 pages creates an absolutely excellent love story, that’s full of regret and second chances and good old fashioned yearning.™ I feel like this is an excellent intro to Austen. The slow build of the characters meeting combined with the gradual reveal of backstory is incredibly fun to behold.
I have been on something of a Jane Austen kick recently – I’m planning to write about it – so I do not surprise myself with this addition.
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
Synopsis: Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting.
Why do I recommend it? This is often one I recommend for a long read, because it is so easy to get lost in this book. I could pick out the recurrent themes of family, grief, loss and love that permeate this coming-of-age tale, but to me, its standout factor is that you don’t really notice any of that. You will simply become swept away by the beautiful language and fall into Theo’s story.
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Synopsis: 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH.
Why do I recommend it? This book had a fundamental impact on the way I understood what literature could do, in regards to the construction of a story. Of course the plot is engaging and intense, but the way Zusak gives us that story as a reader really blew my mind when I first read it tbh.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
Synopsis: When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer.
Why do I recommend it? This book is quite exemplary of all the fun in sci-fi, and it’s what really rekindled by love for the genre as an adult. The characters are each wonderfully unique, but with only a small cast it’s easy to keep track of both the story and the plot, which I think has just enough elements of danger and mystery to balance nicely with the fun, found-family tropes that abound in this book.
I remember picking this book up on a whim in the bookstore not quite knowing what to expect. The best way to describe it is probably this line from the summary: “space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.”
Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb
Synopsis: The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child’s name is Fitz, and he is despised.
Why do I recommend it? After I read this trilogy I was seriously bereft in fantasy fiction for a while because it is so character driven I was hard-pressed to find the same elsewhere. Of course there is excellent worldbuilding and an intriguing plot, but at its heart, what drew me into this book was its robust character voice. Although the premise is not new, unlike many other fantasy stories, the heroes (and villains) here are not infallible. They make (many!) mistakes that have actual repercussions on their lives, which makes them all feel very real.
This book could set you up to read the whole universe Hobb creates after it, but I think just the three in the trilogy (or even just this, to be honest, as it ends well) are excellent reads.
A Darker Shade of Magic – V. E. Schwab
Synopsis: Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London.
Why do I recommend it? Although I have listed the first book in the trilogy, I read all three so fast I find I picture them as one large novel in reality. This books not only introduces a new idea to the fantasy genre that’s a little bit sci-fi, but it’s one that’s completely encapsulating – a story to become lost in. Add to that fun character dynamics and an excellent delve into good/evil, this is a book I challenge you not to get immediately drawn into.
I know I only read this book relatively recently, but I just haven’t been able to forget about it since, and I’m already contemplating squeezing a reread onto my TBR!
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N. K. Jemisin
Synopsis: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where gods’ and mortals’ lives are intertwined. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king.
Why do I recommend it? Where better to start? Really, if you are interested in fantasy fiction, where better to start? This book is part of a trilogy but I think it stands perfectly well alone, and the absolute originality of the ideas in here, coupled with wonderful character development, is not only an infallible introduction to Jemisin’s writing but an idea of exactly how far fantasy can go.
Jemisin is also a pretty prolific writer, which is excellent news because it means there’s no shortage of new work to read, especially as this one was her debut.
As I was writing this I realised so many of these books are frequent recs from me because of what I took away from the experience of reading, whether they’re my favourite books or not. Also many of my comfort reads on here, so I clearly take my own advice!